As many of you may know, the Downtown Curmudgeon is also the founding editor of The American Downtown Revitalization Review –The ADRR. Since almost its inception, members of The ADRR’s advisory board have engaged in an ongoing discussion on a wide range of subjects. A subset of those discussions has been the email give and take between me and Mike Berne, who blogs as The Retail Contrarian. I’d say that we agree about 60% to 70% of the time, but its our interchanges when we disagree that we most enjoy, and from which we often learn most from each other. Recently, we decided that The ADRR would add columnists whose articles would be a regular new feature, and the first of such columns is The Downtown Curmudgeon vs The Retail Contrarian. Here’s the LINK to our first article for that column titled “Whether And How Retail Will Drive The Recoveries In Our Large Downtowns?” Our next column will look at retail in our suburbs and rural communities.
By the way, I invite you to sign up to receive The ADRR’s email edition. It’s free, and I am sure you will find a range of very interesting content about downtown revitalization presented in a number of appealing formats.” The ADRR has taken the lead in covering a number of topics: downtown safety and order; capturing community value; Central Social Functions; the conversion of offices to housing; the impacts of remote work on our downtowns, and keeping our downtowns activated during cold weather.
Throughout the pandemic suburban downtowns have stood out from our largest downtowns in their ability to recover. This was no accident, but the result of the smaller districts not being dominated by monofunctional office clusters, and often actually being far more multifunctional than their larger cousins.
The pandemic has sparked numerous claims that our CBDs (Central Business Districts) are now in decline, and perhaps even perilously so. (1) What is usually lost in such pessimistic analyses is that the areas referred to as CBDs are just large office clusters that are part of the larger downtown. The unexpected and now persistent popularity of remote work, and the consequent empty CBD office spaces certainly lend credence to those claims of weakening. So do the declines in business tourism and a severe thinning of pedestrian traffic on sidewalks usually flush with platoons of office workers at lunchtime and during rush hours.
While all of these deficiencies are undeniable, the assertions that our large downtowns/CBDs are doomed to extreme diminution or death are greatly exaggerated. To understand why our great downtowns are far from doomed we need to properly understand them and their key component parts. Most importantly, they can be not only places where people come to work and make money, but also to socialize and connect with others, to spend money, and to satisfy important personal needs. Moreover, these socially connecting functions are of growing importance to the health and well-being of all of our downtowns. This growth of the socially connecting functions is shifting the nature of our large downtowns. Such a shift would make them much more like our strong suburban downtowns.
Let’s Be Clear About What We Are Talking About
A good starting point is to acknowledge that downtowns are more than geographic areas within our towns and cities filled with clusters of offices and shops. They are complex socio-economic systems, that over time can flex in geographic extent, and the nature and strength of the functions performed within them. To persist and thrive they must change. In the post WWII years, the functions associated with working and making money took physical form in office buildings that dominated our largest downtowns.
Most of the articles proclaiming that our downtowns are in trouble use the term CBD as a synonym for downtown. This is more than a verbal slight, since it too often leads to a narrow focus on the socio-economic functions associated with office operations, while ignoring or downplaying the other vital downtown functions. Consequently, it is important to consider all of a downtown’s functions, with the most important falling into three categories:
CENTRAL BUSINESS FUNCTIONS (CBFs): These are money based, dealing with work, business transactions, and the creation and management of wealth and job creation
CENTRAL SOCIAL FUNCTIONS (CSFs) : The downtown’s collection of activity venues that facilitate people socially connecting and having enjoyable experiences with other people, usually relatives and friends, but, importantly, sometimes strangers
CENTRAL SUPPORT FUNCTIONS (CSUPFs): These industries support the proper operation of the CBFs and the CSFs.
Figure 1 shows some of the types of venues/operations associated with each group of downtown functions. The CBFs are but one of the three essential functional groups performed in our downtowns, and office operations are but one part of the possible CBFs!
The Ebbs and Flows of Downtown Functions.
Since the Agoras of Greece, the Forums of Rome, and the village wells everywhere in antiquity, places of agglomeration have had Central Business Functions as well as Central Social Functions. Over time the strength and importance of these types of functions have varied. In the late 1970s and 1980s downtowns responded to the post WW II weakening of their CBFs and CSFs caused by the flight to the suburbs of White residents, corporate offices and HQs, and major retailers by building monofunctional office clusters filled with fortress type buildings. This established office buildings as a viable and desirable use in fear ridden times. However, the office centric districts were also deader than door nails most of weekdays — save for rush and lunch hours — and on weekends.
It is notable, that such large office clusters have not developed in the large city centers of Western Europe. Moreover, in the mid 19th Century downtowns in América and Western Europe saw the growth of strong retail functions, especially in the new format of department stores. (See Figure 2). Yet, in recent decades, the viability of department stores in our downtowns has diminished and become increasingly uncertain.
Starting in the late 1990s and accelerating in the 2000s, some of these office centric downtowns, such as Downtown Manhattan and Charlotte’s Center City, turned into much more activated downtowns, drawing local residents, and domestic and international visitors. Sidewalks that had been devoid of people for most of the day then saw platoons of pedestrians even in off-peak hours – see photos in Figure 3.
Downtown housing began catching on in the 1990s. New housing units in, but mostly near these downtowns also brought in a pump priming flow of nearby patrons. The number of people who lived and worked in or near a large downtown grew, but there was considerable variation in the degree with which this was achieved. The ten downtowns listed in Figure 4 ranged between 40.7% in Philadelphia and 55.9% in Midtown New York in the number of people who lived within one mile of the downtown who also worked within that area. However, 60% of the 230 employment nodes studied, had under 20% of their residents also working in the area.
There also appears to be an important discrepancy in how much housing actually was going into the downtown core areas versus the more outlying areas of the downtown. Indeed, since these “downtown” residential areas were usually beyond the boundaries of the CBD they were often overlooked in recent discussions of CBD demises. In our largest downtowns offices tended to cluster near commuter rail and subway stations, housing less so. Center City in Philadelphia is having a faster economic recovery from the pandemic than Midtown Manhattan and it is noticeable that Center City’s housing has more strongly penetrated its core area than it has in Midtown Manhattan. During the crisis residents still went out for necessaries and pedestrian traffic and retail sales have done much better in downtown residential areas than in their office clusters.
Large downtowns with insignificant housing in the core seem to be those struggling the most to bring workers and pedestrian traffic back to pre-crisis levels.
While the need for our large downtowns to become more multi-functional has been recognized by some for several decades, the recent pandemic has revealed that many have not done so, especially in their core areas.
Learning From Suburban Downtowns. While employment center functions have long dominated our major downtowns, this has been far less the case in our suburban and independent rural cities. Their downtowns are seldom referred to as CBDs, because their CBFs are seldom dominated by a large office cluster. Yes, they often can have a relatively significant number of people working in them, but they seldom are the location for most of the people working in the town. As can be seen in Figure 5, in the cities with the most jobs – Dublin, Downers Grove, La Crosse and Appleton – their downtown areas only hold between 3% and 7% of them.
And yes, these suburban downtowns can have a significant number of office spaces, though they usually are neither in high rise buildings nor in a dense cluster. Many are scattered among second story and some storefront spaces. Given that the people who work in these towns commute overwhelmingly by auto, offices have not been prime drivers of TOD in these downtowns. That role has usually been played by housing.
Morristown is a very interesting town because it has long been a standout as a unique suburban downtown employment center, that even these days has about 43% of the city’s jobs. Yet years ago, its political and business leaders worried about its well-being because the offices alone where not taking the district where they wanted it to go. Today, the downtown is vibrant, well activated, with a slew of CSF venues and places such as a PAC that draws 200,000 people annually, The Morriston Green public space, about 100 eateries and watering holes that average over $1 million/yr in sales, and a very strong pamper niche adding much to its magnetism. It has just a few national retail chains, but many successful small boutiques. It is widely acknowledged that what turned this downtown around was not its offices or retail, but the 1,500 or so new residential units that were built between about 2000 and 2010, with more units added consistently since then. This pattern of new downtown housing sparking the development and growth of CSF venues is replicated in a growing number of affluent suburban downtowns across the nation. Cranford, NJ, for example, has built 366 Transit Oriented Development housing units since 2006 – see Figure 6 – boosting the vibrancy of Its CSF venues. Out in the Midwest, take a ride on a Metra train from downtown Chicago to Aurora and one finds town after town with lots of residential units near their rail stations.
An important lesson our large downtowns can learn from these successfully urbanized suburban downtowns is that strong, dominant CBFs are not required for a downtown to be strong and successful if it has strong CSFs!
Another important lesson is that housing near rail stations that are located in the downtown core may be a very sound idea. That would be in sharp contrast, for instance, with:
The current situation in Midtown Manhattan where the residential units within this downtown are overwhelmingly at its edges and not its core
The State’s current plan in NYC to raze the area around Penn Station between Sixth and Ninth Avenues from 30th to 34th Streets, and fill those properties with very large office buildings. (2)
Also, it may be a very sound idea for office spaces in our largest downtowns not to be part of any substantially sized office building cluster, but as parts of either clusters of mixed use buildings or mixed-use clusters of buildings specializing in different functions. One way or another, however, it is essential that substantial housing be brought into the core office area. Happily, projects of this kind are happening. The rehabilitation of the 40 story Seneca One Tower in downtown Buffalo, NY is a great example of what such a mixed use building might contain. It combines 115 apartments, with office spaces, a food hall, a large gym and a craft brewery.(3) In downtown Dallas the 50-story Thanksgiving Tower is undergoing a similar mixed-use transformation that will have a substantial number of residential units. In Lower Manhattan’s financial district, the conversion of One Wall Street from office to residential uses will provide over 500 units and be the largest such conversion in the city’s history.
The opportunities for such large conversions of existing office spaces may be relatively hard to find, but when they occur their impacts on a downtown can be substantial in terms of generating non office worker foot traffic and the businesses to serve it.
The problem with converting most large modern office buildings to residential uses is reportedly their large floor plates with most space distant from windows. So far, the mixed use conversions have the offices still occupying these large floors, while the conversion to housing occur on smaller and usually higher floors. One might wonder if some property owner might try a mixed use program on the larger floors, with spaces along the windowed perimeter taking on residential uses, and the remaining window-distant spaces retaining their office uses?
Affluent CSF Driven Suburban Downtowns Will Recover Quickly and Strongly from the Crisis.
Morristown and many other wealthy suburban downtowns are also primed for recovery because they suffered far less from the Covid crisis than have their big city cousins:
They were much more dependent on residents than office workers or domestic and international tourists than most of our large downtowns
They have lots of new housing units within their downtown cores, often within a 10 minute walk of their commuter rail station.
Their restaurants and other CSF venues were and are bringing people downtown
Their pedestrian traffic returned much quicker than it has in our large downtowns
Any tourist flows, are overwhelmingly domestic, and are returning quickly.
In addition, the crisis has positively impacted on their assets:
It has significantly increased the number of residents who work remotely and are now part of the downtown’s important daytime population. Conversations with several suburban downtown managers found that merchants definitely have noted their presence.
It has accelerated a trend that was already apparent prior to the crisis of Millennials in search of affordable housing and good schools moving from their region’s central city greater downtown areas to the suburbs. Unfortunately, this trend also has a downside – rising housing costs.
Metuchen, NJ is another downtown positioned for a quick recovery and demonstrates many of their characteristics. It started a major revitalization effort in 2016 and since then has seen about a $169 million invested in the downtown, with 397 new residential units being built. Many of these units are near the commuter rail station that has direct connections to New York, Newark, and Trenton.
Metuchen’s residents have high median household incomes $128,619 and 62.5% have a BA degree or higher.
Between March of 2020 and March 2021, 33 downtown businesses closed, while 38 opened. Interestingly, 55% of the new businesses were related to CSFs—they are already leading the way to recovery. Here again, these downtowns provide a useful lesson for our larger downtowns.
15- Minute Neighborhoods/Cities are a hot topic these days, with many eyes on Paris and folks wondering if this concept would work here in the US. The leaders at CNU have given it serious and interesting attention and thought. It is a concept worthy of a close look to clarify its meaning and viability. Given that I want to analyze a complex concept in as few words as possible, I will avoid mentioning who said what when and where in previous published discussions about 15-minute neighborhoods/cities (hereafter referred to as 15MNs). As a curmudgeon and a contrarian, I will first present a contrarian view of what 15MNs are, their components, and how they should be defined. Then I will present the thinking that fostered my view of them. This will be followed by a case study of the community I live in, Kew Gardens (KG), NY. It is smaller than the area covered in a 15 minute walk shed, yet it has loads of things to do and buy. It also was built as a planned suburb, and today maintains many of the characteristics of one. NYC has several other neighborhoods that started out as suburbs, such as Forest Hills Gardens.
My intent is not to be definitive, but to spotlight some analytical and factual issues that now surround the concept, to provide some possible solutions, and to spark some additional discussion and amicable debate.
A Contrarian View of 15MNs
The Component Parts. 15MNs are composed of 1) a basic Core Area and 2) many larger Associated Access Areas.
The Core Area. Is fundamentally a residential area defined by a 15 minute walk shed from some central point, with supportive services that meet many human needs and desires, but certainly not all.
Who lives there will be strongly influenced by where people work. However, the people who will work there and do not live there are also very important because they so strongly impact local shops and businesses. Most people do not work in the community where they live, and that will probably be true of any 15MN. For example, here in Kew Gardens, 7,787 residents had jobs in 2019, but only 185, 2.4%, worked in KG. Most of KG’s residents work in Manhattan, with about 20% working in the Midtown CBD that’s about seven miles away (see map above). However, about 4,600 people come into KG to work there each weekday. Accordingly, meeting the needs and desires of these workers in the core area must also be considered because they account for such a large part of that area’s critical daytime population. These workers also will usually make pedestrian trips while in the area of 10 minutes or less.
The strengths and magnetism of the core areas will vary based on the range of needs and desires addressed and on how well that is done. The core thus serves as a kind of container for the venues and places that meet some, and hopefully many, of the residents’ needs and desires. The number of needs and desires addressed in a core and the number of venues and places addressing each one will vary with the cores population density, and the wealth and tastes of its residents and other frequent users.
The Associated Access Areas. The access areas are places core area residents can go to within a 15 minute trip. Core areas thus also serve as a base for residents to access additional venues and places located well beyond its borders that additionally can meet its residents’ needs and wants. Each of these needs and wants will likely have their own travel sheds that are further fragmented by the transportation modes that are fastest and popular. Jobs are one example. Others are comparison retail – many malls have 15-20 minute drive sheds, a few 40 minutes – hospitals and specialty medical services, major entertainment and cultural venues, colleges and universities, etc. Some may be reached by micro transportation vehicles; others will require the use of cars or mass transit.
Rather than carrying over a specific transportation mode to define these access areas, I am carrying over the 15 minute travel time constraint because of its implicitly strong association with providing the opportunity for enjoying a higher quality of life. A better quality of life is perhaps the most fundamental argument in favor of 15MNs. The pandemic has shown how stressing and destructive of quality of life are long commutes. What is not only in a town but also easily accessed in a short nearby trip is often an important factor in decisions people make about where they want to live.
Where the 15MN is located can make an enormous difference on what it can offer its residents. For example, a 15 minute car ride may theoretically buy 10 miles of distance and make every city a 15-minute city, but in places with very dense and slow moving traffic such as LA, NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas and Seattle that will not be the case. This is particularly important regarding the ability of 15MNs to provide 15 minute access to large clusters of office jobs in their downtowns. In less congested cities, this will be less of an issue. Also, some cities, like NYC are polycentered with several downtowns, so this might increase the chances for 15MIN-jobs hook ups. In other words, some 15MNs will have this important jobs access, while others will to a lesser extent, or not at all.
The 15 minute access areas are critical because they can significantly impact the desirability of living in a particular 15MN’s core area.
Some Basic Givens
15MNs should not be viewed as complete or even mostly economically self-sustaining entities, i.e., small autarkies. Even the slightest implication of that will severely weaken the persuasiveness of the concept. Autarky lacks viability at the national level and is even less so at the local level. However, 15MNs should offer a lot of what people need for everyday living like shelter, food, entertainment, safety and especially a sense of community.
Nor should they be seen as isolated geographic units with no really important ties to their cities, regions or states. Even famous island nations have strong ties to other geographic units. Viable 15MNs also will be stronger if they are well connected to their neighboring communities and their regions. This is especially true because of jobs. Since large downtowns are often very large office employment nodes, how 15MNs are connected to them can be an important factor in determining their magnetism.
15MINs CANNOT BE DEFINED BY JUST ONE TRAVEL MODE. Work is an absolutely essential part of people’s lives. Pre pandemic, about 5% of our labor force worked from home (WFH), and recent estimates are that 20% to 30% will do so post pandemic. Also, the average commuter trip in the US is 27.6 minutes, with only about 29% of commutes by all modes lasting 15 minutes or less. One might reasonably argue that unless advocates of 15MNs can provide an adequate way of dealing with the work issue, its chances of success will be diminished. Proximity to large employment nodes may determine if a 15MN can claim to offer 15-minute access to jobs. For example, here in NYC, a 15MN in Long Island City, Astoria or Williamsburg would be more likely to provide such access than those in Forest Hills, Kew Gardens or Prospect Heights when door to door trips are considered, not just the length of a bus or rail trip. Long Island City is of special interest because it is and has long been an important employment node, and has had huge recent residential growth.
Many cities such as NYC and LA are really polycentered, with one very dominant downtown, and others dispersed across the city. In NYC these downtowns include: Midtown and Downtown in Manhattan; LIC, Jamaica Center, Flushing, and Rego Park/Elmhurst in Queens; Downtown Brooklyn, and Fordham Road in The Bronx. 15MNs within 15-minute trips of them may offer stronger job access.
Residential uses are the foundation stones of 15MNs. On them and their supporting functions a community can be built. Since community building is easier and stronger when people meet and interact, the area’s built environment must facilitate and support such interactions. This means walkability, public spaces and third places are important assets. It also means that the 15MN’s core area should be geographically defined by a 15 minute walk shed from its central point.
Given this residential orientation, our national trend of residential tribalism, and their relatively small size, will 15MNs have a propensity to be racial and ethnic enclaves? Are such enclaves always problematical, e.g., our Chinatowns, Koreatowns, Little Indias?
A 15MN’s core cannot possibly meet every need and desire residents might want. Such an outcome has so strong a prima facie improbability that nothing more needs to be said.
When talking about how 15MNs meet resident needs and desires, we should be clear about whether we are talking about what the average or strongest and most magnetic among them might have, or what might be asserted as needed for them to be deemed 15MNs. I think, in this regard, there has been a lot of confusion about what makes a 15MN and what makes a great one.
While not all human needs and desires will be met within a 15MN’core area, many more probably can be accessed from the 15MN core within the 15 minute travel time of some mode of transportation other than walking. Consequently, 15MN cores function as 1) geographic containers for some –and hopefully a lot – of the venues and places that meet the needs and desires of the local residents, businesses and workers, and 2) a as an operational base from which core resident needs and desires can be met more fully in “access areas” defined by 15 minute travel sheds that cover larger areas because the travel modes employed have greater speed than walking. A 15 minute walk shed covers about 1.88 square miles, a 15 minute auto travel shed theoretically can cover 335.1 square miles. Yes, this may mean that traveling by rail, bus, and car are still associated with 15MNs. This is especially likely to be true with regard to comparison retail, jobs, education and health care services, etc.
15MNs will not have just one set of defining functions and activity opportunities. One set would mean just one type of 15MN, when many types are conceivable, and people will probably chose which 15MN to live in based on how the 15MNs functions and opportunities met their specific set of lifestyle needs and wants. Just as there are different types of residences, there can be a wide variety of 15MNs
15MNs cannot be exhaustively defined by the 15-minute travel shed of just one transportation mode, walking. To do so will be counter to the strong probability that the residents of any 15MN will be very multimodal, and not only walking and riding bikes and scooters, but also using buses, subways, commuter rail, and yes, even cars.
However, 15 minutes is an essential part of the concept because of its association with the possibility of having a better quality of life. Its presence acts as a constant, like the speed of light in Einstein’s E=MC2 equation, that serves to focus attention on geographic areas in which travel times are far from burdensome, so movement within these areas can be relatively easy.
A Sample of Urban 15MN Core Venues and Places
Having argued strongly above that 15MNs cannot meet all the needs and wants of its their residents, I want to illustrate that in dense urban areas they nevertheless can meet a wide variety of them. I am not claiming that the situation depicted below should or will be replicated elsewhere, and there are obvious conditions associated with it such as population size and density, household incomes, and infrastructure amenities.
To do so I have selected the Kew Gardens zip code to look at. With an area of about .57 square miles, it is considerably smaller than the 1.88 square miles a full 15 minute walk shed covers. It’s population is comparatively large,19,341, exceeding that of about 85% of the nation’s incorporated places, and dense at 34,042 persons per square mile. There are over 9,000 housing units. The median HH income is about $70,900, with 32% having incomes of $100,000+. Fifty percent of adults have a BA or higher degree. The largest racial/ethnic groups are: White 48.4%; Hispanic 25.1%, Asian 16.2%, and Black 6.2%.
The neighborhood borders a 538 acre park and has a strong cinema that draws from well beyond the community, commuter rail and subway stations, and an exit on a major limited access highway.
In 2019, there were 477 business establishments in the zip code, of which 49 were retail, overwhelmingly independents and small chains. Thirty-one were in accommodations and food services, with a vast proportion restaurants and takeout places. There are a large number of professional services because of important city offices and courts in the area. There are also numerous other Central Social Functions types of venues such as hair and nail salons, martial arts studios, childcare and senior care facilities.
Jobs are where this neighborhood sees the overwhelmingly majority of its residents, 97.6%, leaving the area, and 96.2% of those employed in Kew Gardens are not living there. Pre-crisis 53% used public transit to get to work, 35% autos, 6.1 % biked or walked, and 3.8% worked from their homes.
Having a large number of people living and working in an area is seen as increasing the multifunctional strength of large employment centers, such as our large downtowns with large inventories of office space. However, it is not easily achieved. For example, as can be seen in the nearby table, some of our major employment nodes do indeed have over 40% of their residents also working in the area, but they only account for about 4.2% of all 230 employment nodes studied. In contrast, 60% of the nodes were below 20%.
That suggests that it will not be easy for 15MNs to grow their live-work numbers. The growth in remote work might help some in this regard, but that will happen most easily in suburban locations that are attracting nesting Millennials who also hold jobs attached to offices in large downtowns.
KG is Probably Far From Alone and That Raises the Issue of Making Our Organic 15MNs Better. New York City probably has several hundred neighborhoods. Manhattan alone has 53, according to the city planning department. Many of them have organically developed in a fashion similar to KG, and be de facto 15MNs.
For them the issue is not really one of creating a 15MN, but how they can be made better. In thinking about that, we need to consider not only their core areas, but also how their access areas can be expanded or better penetrated. The latter is essentially a transportation issue. My bet is that the growing use of e-bikes and e-scooters will facilitate that faster in the three to five mile range than any expansion of mass transit.
Some Suggested Take Aways
Our densely populated cities may already have many organically developed 15MNs
A 15-minute walk shed can hold a large number of diverse businesses, residential units, and other assets that impact the local quality of life, but that is not necessarily the case. As with any neighborhood, 15MNs will differ in how many of these assets they have, as well as in their population size and density, household incomes, racial/ethnic mixes, etc.
Their magnetism will depend on their asset mix and how their specific asset mix meshes with the needs and desires of potential residents
Some of the needs and desires of 15MN residents can also be met outside of the core but within 15 minute trips by their favored transportation modes
The needs and desires of residents that are best met in venues and places that are designed to have regional drawing power – workplaces, comparison shopping malls, hospitals, colleges, major museums, etc. – typically will be the hardest to access even within 15 minute trips by the fastest transportation mode, unless the 15MN is geographically located close to them. Where the 15MN is located makes a difference.
Going to work will probably be the primary reason that 15MN residents leave their neighborhoods. 15MNs in polycentered cities that are with a 15 min travel times — door to door – of one of these downtowns will be better able to have easy access to workplaces and benefit from it as a magnetizing asset.
Over the past decade I have become increasingly focused on what I have been calling Central Social Districts (CSDs). The simple analytical framework I’ve been developing saw downtowns being composed of two major components: Central Business Districts (CBDs) and CSDs. However, over the past year or so, email discussions with members of The ADRR board, and an interview by Rob Steuteville at CNU’s Public Square have prompted me to take a much closer look at the vocabulary we use to describe and analyze our downtowns. My objective in this article is to start a discussion of the topic. I don’t claim to have definitive answers, but certainly aspire to getting such a discussion off to a very good start.
In recent months I have again confirmed my conclusion that remote work is here to stay, and that it will undoubtedly impact our large and suburban downtowns. In the past, I felt this was the case because:
So many more employees now have tried and liked remote work. They also have become much better at it
Major corporations are adapting their operations to it and investing substantial sums in equipment and programming to help assure its optimal performance. This is even happening in major companies whose CEOs were initially opposed to remote work
There is much wider acceptance of remote work. Importantly, those who engage in it are far less likely to be seen as slackers or second-class employees.
Recently, I have also come to see the critical importance of remote working being a response to needs other than those related to the pandemic. This is critically important because new or heightened trends will only persist past the crisis that impacts them if non-crisis related needs are there to sustain substantial future interest in them. That critical non-crisis related need for remote work, I would argue, is related to the “unbonding” of creatives working for corporations. Just as there are forces that bond together atoms, ions, or molecules to form chemical compounds, so there are forces that make creative employees bond or unbond to the companies that employ them. The pandemic has reinforced those that press toward unbonding. This unbonding may not mean the termination of the relationship between creative employees and their employers. However, it certainly does mean a change in it, and a loosening of the bonds between them so that the workers have much more control over their work and personal lives. Remote work allows the workers to have greater control while still maintaining a meaningful relationship with their employers. In turn, remote work allows employers to retain and attract desperately needed highly talented employees.
It increasingly looks like remote work will have serious negative impacts on our large office dependent downtowns, and potential positive impacts for many suburban and some rural regional commercial centers, i.e., those at the center of small metro areas. The time has come in the downtown revitalization field to look more seriously about how the negative impacts of remote work in our major downtowns can be offset, and how its positive impacts in the suburban and rural areas can best be leveraged.